By Sofia Reddy
A few weeks ago, I attended my first weekend of silence retreat. When I told my friends, they were in awe. Probably more like disbelief. They couldn’t believe that I would go three days without any electronic equipment or talking to anyone.
Shortly after registering, I began to feel nervous and questioned if this was a good decision. I felt compelled to follow through, however, because the retreat center offered me a generous scholarship and I didn’t want to appear flaky or ungrateful.
More doubts were raised when I received my welcome letter and expectations guide: What if I ended up with a roommate who snored? What if I freaked out and ran for the hills? What if I discovered I couldn’t tolerate it?
Again, even though my mind was creating worst case, “what if” scenarios, I knew deep down it was worth taking the plunge into the unknown. After all, what did I have to lose?
I took the support staff’s suggestion and carpooled to the retreat. Of course, my initial thoughts again drifted toward the “what if” scenarios: What if the car broke down en route and we missed the retreat? What if I was abducted? What if this guy was a serial killer? I asked my husband to give me a ride to the meet-up location and take down this guy’s license plate information (just in case). Luckily, he turned out to be a normal guy who wanted a weekend to himself before his upcoming wedding. We had another traveling companion, a woman who flew in from Canada.
We arrived, safe and sound. Each of us was assigned a “yogi job.” The retreat organizers explained that “dana” is a form of generosity, which is about “freely offering.” My yogi job was to clean the bathrooms on the main floor each morning. We were given forty-five minutes to mindfully do our job. Again, my mind started coming up with objections like: “Great, of course, I get the grossest job of all!” In the spirit of choosing selflessness, however, I switched my perception by focusing on the fact that I would be using rubber gloves, after all. Ultimately, I found that the ability to focus on something as simple as cleaning allowed me to be fully present in the moment. I was then able to see it as a contribution I was making to the community.
Our daily schedule was as follows: sitting meditation, walking meditation, sitting meditation, walking meditation, and so on, throughout the day, with three breaks for yummy vegetarian meals.
Imagine sitting in a cafeteria with ninety-seven other people eating in silence. Imagine sharing a room with someone you are not supposed to speak with for an entire weekend. Imagine carpooling with people you’ve never met before.
I had a chance to do all of these things and learned some important lessons in the process.
Thanks to the silence, I was able to listen to myself a little more, which helped me gain new perspectives about how to create more positivity in my life.
5 Lessons I Heard in the Silence and Tips You Can Try
No weekend of silence required
Lesson #1: Practice Focusing on the Positive Every Day
Wake up each morning with a reminder of why you are grateful. Notice the people who inspire and encourage you to pursue your dreams. Be open to recognizing all of your emotions without labeling them as good or bad. Let go of feelings that keep you stuck in pain, like anger, resentment, and jealousy. Instead, opt for forgiveness and compassion.
Try this: Bring someone to mind with whom you have had difficulty recently. Notice that person as a human being who experiences all of the same feelings you do. This person has experienced pain, fear, and joy. Recognize him or her as someone trying to be happy in life, just like you. Next, identify something positive about this person. What is one trait you respect or admire about him or her? Sometimes, reframing the way we view another can help us feel empathy, which is an antidote to anger and resentment.
Lesson #2: Take a Respite from Daily Life Distractions
We all need time in the day to unplug and unwind from the responsibilities of living. Each day seems filled with so much to do that we have a tendency to forget to relax. We need to make time for rest. We deserve it!
Try this: Turn off the phone and TV at dinnertime. Talk to your family instead. Practice really listening to them. Commit to being present to your loved ones for at least one hour a day. It’s amazing what happens to your relationships when you really pay attention.
Lesson #3: Rediscover How Amazing Your Life Is by Being Mindful of Every Moment
Mindfulness means being fully present to our own lives, without judgment. It means allowing ourselves to enjoy every moment of every day, no matter what we are doing.
Try this: Today, slow down and enjoy your commute to work, rather than rushing and feeling tense and anxious. At lunch, enjoy your meal by relishing each bite, before gulping it down and hurrying onto your next task. During your break, stop to have a warm conversation with a colleague, instead of scurrying by with your head turned down.
Lesson #4: Start the Day by Paying Attention to All of Your Senses
Wake up and acknowledge each wonderful gift you have. See it as another day to enjoy the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations life has to offer.
Try this: Step away from the computer for five minutes and notice your environment right now. What do you see? What do you smell? How do your clothes feel against your skin? What do you hear? How does it sound? What taste is in your mouth? Simply observe all of your sensations without labeling, judging, or criticizing them. Now how do you feel?
Lesson #5: Make the Most of the Here and Now
Stop obsessing about the past or anxiously trying to control a future that has not yet arrived. Make the most of each moment by being fully present to the life that’s right in front of you. While we can revisit the past, we have to accept that we cannot change it. We can, however, change our response to the past by learning important lessons from it and using that wisdom in the life we’re living right now.
Try this: Find an old photo of yourself from a time you felt confused or lost in your life. Now, spend some time looking at this past version of yourself and consider all the uncertainty you were experiencing at the time (not knowing what you know now). Think about what this older, wiser version of you today would say to the younger, less experienced person. Write a loving letter of wisdom. What advice would you give? What is the most important lesson you want to convey? Remember to feel proud of your accomplishments and the fact that no matter what you experienced, you are here to tell the story. Life is amazing! Let’s relish every minute of it.
Sofia Reddy is a licensed independent clinical social worker (LICSW) in Massachusetts. Sofia works as a psychotherapist in a mental health clinic that serves returning veterans and also teaches graduate-level social work courses. Her 24/7 job is raising her son, keeping up with her home, and managing her marriage while trying to manage her own self-care. To learn more, visit her website.
*Photo by becomeunreal.